Marc Stein: Project Introduction

            In the last several decades, the study of U.S. history has been greatly influenced by the rise of transnational, comparative, and global history. Some subfields of U.S. history, including diplomatic history and the history of international relations, have long placed the United States within larger geographic frameworks, but until recently most tended to treat the United States in isolation, ignoring international influences, impacts, intersections, and interdependencies. Though there have been important exceptions, this has been true of most scholarship on U.S. gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer history. Inspired in part by the groundbreaking historical work of Leila Rupp, David Churchill, and Craig Loftin on U.S. homophile internationalism, this online archive and exhibit features annotated bibliographies, digitized materials, and introductory essays on U.S. homophile magazine references to, representations of, and contributions from other parts of the world. The exhibit focuses on the years from 1953 to 1964 and it addresses three of the most important U.S. homophile magazines of the 1950s and 1960s: ONE, Mattachine Review, and The Ladder. The exhibit does not focus on all regions of the world; it highlights (1) Africa; (2) Asia and the Pacific; (3) Canada; (4) Latin America and the Caribbean; (5) the Middle East; and (6) Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.

            This project originated in a 2014 Insight Grant that I received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), which awarded me five years of funding to support a project titled “U.S. Perspectives on Canadian Sexual Politics: Historical Case Studies.” One of the proposed chapters of that project and the first that I began researching focused on references to, representations of, and contributions from Canada in the U.S. homophile press of the 1950s and 1960s. One of the broader goals of the larger project is to consider the pre-history of the recent North American perception that Canada is more sexually liberal than the United States. When I began work on the project, I hoped that by looking at the U.S. homophile periodicals of the 1950s and 1960s I would develop a sense of whether the perception that Canada is more sexually liberal than the United States pre-dated the decriminalization of homosexuality that occurred (with important exceptions) when Pierre Trudeau was Canada’s prime minister in the late 1960s (more than three decades before national decriminalization was achieved in the United States). In working on this chapter, I began to realize that my analysis would be strengthened by a broader consideration of U.S. homophile references to, representations of, and contributions from other parts of the world.

            In 2015, with financial support from SSHRC, I assembled an interdisciplinary team of research assistants at York University, where I was based from 1998 to 2014. All of the research assistants are Ph.D. students at York; several previously completed their M.A. degrees at York. While I was at York, I served as their M.A. and/or Ph.D. supervisors. For those who are completing their Ph.D.s in the next year or two, I am continuing to serve as their supervisor or as a member of their supervisory committee.

            The research team consists of Tamara de Szegheo Lang, Sage Milo, and Healy Thompson, who are completing Ph.D.s in Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies; Carly Simpson, who is completing a Ph.D. in History; Dasha Serykh, who is completing a Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought; and Shlomo Gleibman, who is completing a Ph.D. in Humanities. Because Tamara is working on a dissertation on LGBTQ public history in North America, I asked her to take the lead on digital photography and exhibit design and work with me on the Canada bibliography. Before beginning her Ph.D. studies, Dasha completed an M.A. Major Research Paper on U.S. LGBT magazine and newspaper representations of Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, so she took responsibility for that region. Healy, who is completing a dissertation on the international dimensions of U.S. reproductive and sexual politics, worked previously on Africa as a U.S.-based international AIDS activist, so she was assigned this continent. Sage, who is writing their dissertation on British feminist periodicals, has lived in the Middle East, so they took responsibility for that region. Shlomo, who is working on a dissertation on representations of religion in Jewish North American LGBT cultural texts, took the lead on Latin America and the Caribbean. Carly is completing a dissertation on LGBT history in three mid-sized Ontario cities; she assumed responsibility for Asia and the Pacific.

            The first major task was to produce the regional bibliographies. We did this in two complementary ways. First, each research assistant used EBSCO Publishing’s LGBT Life with Full Text, a digitized database with partial coverage of the three homophile magazines, to identify potentially relevant items. We consulted about search terms to catch as many items as possible and then reviewed the contents to make sure that they were relevant. The search terms included the names of cities, countries, and regions; mountains, lakes, and rivers; and well-known individuals (including political leaders, writers, and artists). Second, each research assistant took responsibility for specific years and specific periodicals and skimmed printed copies of the “real” magazines (available at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the University of Toronto Robarts Library) to identify items with relevance for any of the regional bibliographies. The results were then shared and incorporated into the regional bibliographies.

            The second major task was to develop an annotation system for each item. The goal was to maximize the usefulness of the bibliographies for future researchers. After discussion, we agreed to include three types of information in each annotation: (1) item type, (2) country/city names, and (3) major or minor. Item types were identified as News, Feature, Editorial, Fiction, Poetry, Reprint, Letter, Advertisement, Review, Photograph, Art, or Miscellaneous. Country/city references were provided to allow future researchers with interests in particular cities, countries, or regions to identify relevant materials. Since many of the items we discovered contained just passing references to the relevant region, we distinguished between major and minor references, though it should be acknowledged that we made many subjective judgments about this and other researchers might disagree with our assessments.

            The third major task was to photograph digitally the hundreds of items that we identified.

            The fourth major task was to draft, circulate, and revise two introductory essays (one by me and one by Tamara) and the regional introductory essays (by Carly, Dasha, Healy, Sage, Shlomo, and me). I provided a template for the regional essays so each would address similar topics and issues.

            The fifth major task was to upload the materials and design the Outhistory exhibit.

            At the outset of the project, we hoped that we might complete the bibliographies for the period from 1953, when ONE magazine began publication, to 1969, which is generally recognized as the transition year between the homophile era and the era of gay liberation and lesbian feminism. It became clear, however, that we did not have sufficient time and resources to complete the full period and decided instead to concentrate on 1953 to 1964. There was a certain logic to ending the bibliographies in 1964, as this was the year when a new homophile magazine, Drum, began publication and quickly surpassed the others in circulation. If time and resources permit, a future extension of this project will cover the homophile press from 1964 to 1969. Because of time and resource constraints, items from 1953 to 1957 were digitized, but not items from later years; the latter will be done as part of a future extension of the project.

            The selection of regions deserves some explanation. The U.S. homophile periodicals devoted significant attention to and received significant contributions from Western Europe and especially Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia. In part, this reflected longstanding U.S. links to Western Europe, powerful Western European influences on the United States, and the existence of strong Cold War alliances with Western European countries. It also reflected the earlier development of homophile activism and homophile periodicals in Western Europe and, at least in the case of Great Britain, the shared privileging of English language communication. Why, then, did this project not identify Western Europe as one of its regions? One reason is that we know far more about U.S. homophile relationships to Western Europe than we do about U.S. homophile relationships with other parts of the world. (One example would be the of-cited influence of the British Wolfenden Commission on the U.S. homophile movement.) Another is that the sheer volume of references to, representations of, and contributions by Western Europe was so great that it would have been difficult to manage a Western European annotated bibliography and digitization project. In addition, there were the positive reasons for focusing on other regions in the world and especially the opportunity to encourage research on Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Canada was included in part because of the original design of my research project, in part because of the Canadian source of funding, in part because the researchers all have personal connections to Canada, and in part because Canada is often overlooked in projects attempting to internationalize the study of the United States. As for Australia and New Zealand, the research assistants began to collect relevant references midway through the research process and we hope that a future extension of this project might allow for coverage of these two countries.

            We envision three primary uses of these materials. First, researchers who are interested in the history of the six regions might find useful references, representations, and sources that would point to additional research possibilities. For example, a U.S. homophile magazine reference to a film in India, a book in Cuba, a bar in China, a speech in Beirut, or a law in Nigeria might provide a research lead to scholars who are interested in studying the history of these places. In addition, letters to the editor from and other contributions by and about the six regions might tell us something about the history of these regions, their perceptions of the United States, and their perceptions of the U.S. homophile movement. Of course these materials should be used with caution: some may be idiosyncratic and non-representative and some may tell us more about U.S. biases and prejudices than they do about the history of other countries.

            Second, researchers who are interested in the United States might use these materials to consider the ways in which the United States was (or was not) influenced by other countries, the ways in which U.S. Americans conceptualized themselves and their country in relation to other regions and countries, and the influence (or lack of influence) of the United States on other countries. Insofar as the project focuses on the 1950s and 1960s, there may be particularly interesting issues to consider about how the U.S. homophile periodicals imaginatively mapped the world in relation to colonialism, postcolonialism, imperialism, Orientalism, racism, and the Cold War. Students and scholars who are interested in the history of U.S. exceptionalism—the notion that the United States is an exceptional, atypical, and special country—may also find useful materials for analysis. Here, too, the materials should be used with caution. There is no reason to assume that individuals who contributed to the U.S. homophile periodicals were representative of the much larger number of U.S. Americans who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender or the even larger number who engaged in same-sex sex or crossed genders. Moreover, while the homophile periodicals reached thousands or tens of thousands of readers in the United States, this was just a small fraction of the number of people who identified as LGBT, engaged in same-sex sex, or crossed genders in the United States.

            Third, researchers who are interested in transnational and international communications, exchanges, and flows might use these materials to consider how homophile magazines as material objects and as conveyors of textual and visual representations circulated around the world and how material objects and textual and visual representations produced elsewhere circulated in the United States. This might lead to constructive and productive questions about the transnational and international character of homosexual, homophile, and transgender cultures in the 1950s and 1960s. Again, for the reasons highlighted above, researchers should exercise caution when using the materials for these purposes.

            “U.S. Homophile Internationalism: An Online Archive and Exhibit of the 1950s and 1960s” is designed for students, scholars, and everyone interested in the history of gender and sexuality. We very much hope that it will inspire new interest in global histories of gender and sexuality and contribute to the internationalization of U.S. LGBT history.